Tori, Dorothea, Alejandra and the kids had spent a wonderful morning touring around London. Tori had helped Gabi and Colton find presents for their mother, then they toured the Sherlock Holmes Museum and Madame Toussaud’s. They had planned to tour the wax museum the day before, but Jesse and Colton wanted to see the Scream exhibit and they didn’t think that either Alejandra or Dorothea would go, so they waited until Tori and Richie returned from Paris.
“Apparently the kids think that you’re more fun than I am.” Dorothea informed her sister-in-law.
Tori chuckled. “Naw, the boys probably just want to see if they can scare me.”
When they rejoined the rest of the group near the main door, the boys were a little pale and Tori was laughing. “You guys are wimps!”
“Were you scared Aunt Tori?” Jake wanted to know.
Steph shook her head. “No, but Jesse and Colton were screaming like babies!”
“Yeah, they must have jumped three feet in the air!” Gabi added.
“You would too if she poked you like that!” Jesse tried to defend himself.
“That was fun Aunt Tori, thanks!” Colton offered. It was the first time he’d called her ‘aunt’. She’d been completely accepted into the Jovi family.
“You’re welcome. I had fun too.” She ruffled his hair.
They headed back to the hotel fairly early to get packed up. It was the final European show and they were heading back to the States the next morning.
Ava was chattering animatedly about their day as they entered the suite. Tori’s eyes widened in surprise to see Richie there, then narrowed in concern as she realized he was pacing the balcony – not a good sign.
“Daddy! You should have been with us today! Tori really scared Jesse and Colton! It was funny!” Ava gushed as Richie joined them.
“I wish I’d seen that. Baby girl come and sit down for a minute please. I need to talk to you.” He glanced up at Tori, who took one look at his eyes and sat beside Ava. “Grammy and Grampy called earlier.” He hesitated, trying to find the words to explain. “You know how Mommy’s been really sad lately?” Ava nodded. “Well, that’s because she’s sick.”
“Sick like Pappy?” A look of fear settled on the delicate features.
“No, no, not like that.” Her father rushed to reassure her. “She’s going to be alright.”
“What kind of sick then?”
He looked to Tori for help. She put two and two together and figured it out.
“It’s called depression honey.” Tori looked at Richie for confirmation. He nodded. “It makes you really, really sad. If it’s really bad, you get awful tired, like you can hardly move. Have you seen anything like that with Mommy?”
She nodded. “Last Tuesday she didn’t get out of bed, even for dinner. We were supposed to go see a movie, but she said she was too tired. Is that what you mean?”
“Yes sweetie, that’s exactly what I mean.”
“How do they fix it? With medicine?”
“Sometimes. Sometimes they just need to talk to some doctors, to learn how to be happy again.” She crooked a brow at Richie.
“Mommy’s going to a place where she can get some help for a little while.” He informed them.
“What kind of place?”
“You remember when Daddy got sick and had to go to that place in Colorado to get better?” Tori asked. Ava nodded. “It’s like that.”
“Will she have to go to classes and stuff after like Daddy does?”
She certainly doesn’t miss much! “Not exactly like that, but she may have to keep meeting with her doctor. We’ll just have to wait and see what helps her.”
“But she’s not going to die?”
“No sweetie, she’s not going to die.” Richie pulled her onto his lap. “She’s going to get better, she just needs some help.”
“Can I see her when we get home?”
“Not right away. The doctors want to get her treatment started first. You can see her when we get home to L.A., but you can talk to her when we get to New Jersey. We’ll see how she’s feeling. Okay?”
“Okay.” She turned sad eyes up to his. “Can I come to the stadium with you?”
“Of course you can.”
Tori left them huddled together on the couch and went down to Jon and Dorothea’s room to let them know what was going on.
“I wondered what was up when he answered his phone and then just left.” Jon frowned. “Do you think it’s legit?”
“I hope so. I’d hate to think that she’d put Ava through something like this just to get attention.” Tori blinked back tears. “That poor little girl! How much can she be expected to take? First Adam, then Richie, now Heather.”
Dorothea hugged her. “At least now she’s got you to help her. And we will too. She’ll be okay.”
Ava stood on the side of the stage and watched the sound check. For the last couple hours she hadn’t strayed too far from Richie’s side, but she seemed to be calming down. While they were getting dressed, she sat with a pop talking to Mike and Obie.
Tori watched Richie. It was obvious that something was bothering him, and it didn’t take a psychic to figure out what it was. “What are you thinking honey?”
“Nothing. I’m fine.”
“Bullshit. Talk to me Rich.”
“Seriously, I’m fine.”
She opened her mouth to argue when Ava walked in. “Tori, Uncle Jon’s looking for you to warm up.”
“Okay, thanks Bean.” She shot Richie a look that told him that their conversation wasn’t finished.
The show went off without a hitch and Ava was almost asleep on her feet by the time they got back to the hotel. Richie put her to bed while Tori showered and was on his way towards the bathroom when she stopped him.
“Talk to me Rich. Tell me your thoughts on all this.”
He waved away her concern. “Later. They’re waiting for us downstairs.”
Throughout the after party, everytime she tried to get him alone, someone would join them, or he’d see someone he needed to speak to. She was getting frustrated…..and more than a little pissed off. He’d promised to be open with her and talk to her about things that bothered him, yet here they were with the first real test of that and he was locking her out again. She had a feeling she knew why, and while she appreciated his consideration, she had to make him see that he didn’t need to be concerned. It bothered her far more that he wouldn’t talk.
They rode up in the elevator with Jon and Dorothea, then separated to go to their rooms after verifying what time the vans were leaving the next day.
In the suite, Tori went to check on Ava, grabbed a pop from the mini fridge, then took a seat on the couch and settled in to wait him out. Twenty minutes later he finally came looking for her.
“Aren’t you coming to bed?”
She shook her head. “Not until you sit your ass down and talk to me!”
He tried once more. “Tori, I’m fine. Really.”
“Richard Sambora! Don’t you dare do this! You promised! Don’t act like it isn’t bothering you! I can see it in your eyes. What happened to sharing our feelings?” The warning in her tone was very clear.
He grimaced, raked his hand through his hair and tried to find a way to fulfil his promise without hurting her.
She sighed. “Look, I know that you must still have some feelings for Heather. Aside from the fact that you were married for over eleven years and have a child together, you’re not the kind of man who can just turn off those feelings completely and ignore her pain.” He looked apologetic. “You still having feelings for Heather at some level doesn’t bother me or make me feel threatened. You trying to cover it up and deny it, however, does.”
He sank down beside her. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t want you to doubt my feelings for you.”
“I won’t, as long as you don’t hide your feelings. It’s when you’re secretive that I start to worry.”
He nodded. “Gotcha.” He paused, and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees, gathering his thoughts. “I just…..did I bring this on? Did my hounding her about Ava coming here push her over the edge?”
“Honey, as I understand it, this type of thing usually builds over time before it erupts, and not just a couple weeks.”
“Intellectually, I know that, but emotionally….” He shrugged.
“What else?” She knew there was more to it.
He took a deep breath and hoped that she meant what she’d said earlier. “I have to wonder exactly how long this has been building. Was this part of the reason for the failure of our marriage? Were there signs even back then, that I missed? If I’d noticed could I done something to help? Would things have turned out differently?”
Tori ignored the stab of pain his words brought. She had to trust that he loved her, that things with Heather were beyond the point of no return. If she wanted him to share with her she had to set her emotions aside and focus on his.
“I don’t have the answers for you honey. Those are things that you need to talk to Heather about.” She just prayed that the answers were in her favour. “But I do know that if you focus on the what if’s you’ll drive yourself crazy. You can’t change the past. You can only learn from it and use that knowledge to prevent making the same mistakes in the future. When she’s up to it, you should sit down with her and have a real heart to heart.”
He stared at her in amazement. Where most women would be demanding that he stay away from his ex-wife, here she was encouraging him to talk to her and talk about their problems. “You are an incredible woman and I love you. I’m so glad that Ava has someone like you in her life for a role model. God knows neither of her parents are exactly stellar. Look at what we’ve put her through.”
“Hey! Don’t sell yourself short.” She laid one hand on his shoulder and rubbed his back with the other. “You’re a wonderful father! You’re caring and understanding. It’s obvious to everyone, including her, how much you love her.You give her support and guidance. You’ve shown her that with a little hard work, problems can be overcome. You’re everything a parent should be.”
“Thanks to you. You taught me that.” He leaned over and kissed her. “I love you.”
“I love you too. Don’t worry, Ava’s going to be just fine.”
Jon took a seat near where Tori was sitting on a couch, Ava asleep beside her. He glanced around the plane. The kids – except for Steph, who was reading, and Jesse and Colton who were playing cards with Richie, Hugh and David – were sleeping. Dorothea and Alejandra were talking near the middle of the cabin. Tico was dozing on another couch, Hector beside him.
“Definately a full flight.” He turned his glance back to his sister. “Everytime I come back here to talk to you, a Sambora has their head in your lap.”
She smiled, looked down, and stroked the blonde head. “She’s had a busy week. Luckily she’s inherited her father’s ability to sleep just about anywhere.”
“And his good sense of what makes a comforting place to rest.” Richie added as he sat on her other side.
Tori’s smile widened and lifted her face to meet him as he bent to kiss her. Jon just rolled his eyes.
“So what do you guys have planned for the next few days? Are you going to L.A?”
“That depends on how Heather’s doing.” Richie replied.
“We need to visit our parents at some point – all of them. Plus, I’d like to go to Philly soon and get my boxes unpacked.”
“Maybe between Central Park and the Gardens.” Richie suggested.
“You are coming to New Orleans if we get there aren’t you?” Jon asked her.
“You mean when you get there. Positive thinking Jon. And yes, if that’s an invitation, I accept.”
“I don’t want to jinx anything by being too cocky. And you don’t need an invitation. You’re welcome anytime.”
“Thanks. Count me in.”
Tori and Jon met in the gym the next afternoon. Her brows rose in surprise.
“I know why I felt the need to work up a sweat, but what brings you here?”
He grimaced. “Avoiding the phone. Apparently some people don’t understand the concept of taking a day off.”
“Haven’t they ever told you Jon? The boss doesn’t get a day off.”
He sighed. “I know, but I keep hoping that, just once, when I say that I’m not available they’ll actually believe me and leave me alone.”
She snorted. “Sure, until something goes wrong that day and you scream at them for not telling you.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, I guess.” He glanced at her flushed face. “So why the need to work up a sweat?”
“Well, except for sightseeing and shopping walking tours, I haven’t gotten much exercise lately, and I’m feeling a little blah.” She paused. “And it gives me time to think.”
He smiled to himself. He often used his daily run to work out problems or organize his thoughts. “Starting on the wedding plans eh? Well just let us know what you need us to do.”
“Mmmm.” She answered non commitally. “Thanks.”
“Oh, by the way, Mom, Dad, Matt and Desiree are coming for dinner tonight.”
“Great! I can’t wait to see them.”
He reached for a towel as he stepped off the treadmill. “What are Rich and Ava up to?”
“Richie was talking to Heather’s mother when I left, then they were going to call and let Ava speak to her mother.”
“How’s she holding up – Ava I mean?” He didn’t really care about Heather.
“She’s doing better. Children are so resilient. Once she was assured that Heather wasn’t going to die, she asked a few questions about the treatement, and seems to have accepted the situation.”
“She’s a strong little girl.”
“Yeah, but she’s still just a little girl. She should be planning her next sleep over with her friends, not a visit to her mother in a treatment facility.”
“Hey, that’s normal for Hollyweird. They don’t compare recipes, they compare therapists!”
She laughed. “Yeah, I guess, but just because it’s normal, doesn’t make it right.”
He didn’t disagree. “Certainly a different world than the one we grew up in isn’t it?”
“That’s an understatement.”
“Okay, Tori, will you please appease my curiousity?” John Sr. asked as they all settled into the den after the greetings subsided. “Dorothea said that you had a surprise for us.”
Tori chuckled as she took a seat on the couch and shot a glance at Richie who sat next to her. Romeo immediately climbed into his favorite spot on Tori’s lap. Ava frowned slightly and squeezed in between the adults. Her father shifted a bit to give her room.
“Well, I don’t know if it’s really a surprise…” Tori began. A nudge in her ribs had her glancing down into pleading dark eyes. She smiled. “Go ahead Bean, you tell them.”
“We’re getting married!”
“Really? That’s great! Congratulations!” Carol exclaimed.
“About time!” John added with a look at Richie. Carol swatted his arm. Richie flushed a dark red.
“Well Rich, I guess you know what you’re getting yourself into.” Matt commented.
Tori raised a brow. “Was that a dig at me or marriage?”
He could feel both his mother’s and Desiree’s stare. “Ummm…well..I just…”
“Put your foot in it now, didn’t you Matty?” Jon chuckled. “There’s no graceful way out.”
“I only meant that he knows the family well, and understands what being married to a Bongiovi will be like.” Matt finally got out.
“Pure bliss?” Jon offered. Dorothea rolled her eyes.
“Let’s see the hardware.” Desiree urged.
Tori obligingly held out her hand. While the women oohed and aaahed, Richie looked at the men and smiled smugly. John Sr. gave him an approving thumbs up.
“Any thoughts on a date yet?” Carol inquired.
Tori shook her head. “No, not yet. I need to wait until things settle down a bit before I can even think about that.”
“What are your plans for the Fourth? Are you going to be here for the barbeque?” Dorothea asked.
“I’m not sure. We’re going to see Joan tomorrow and we need to go see my parents at some point.” She glanced at Richie.
“I was thinking we should get back to L.A. We could visit your parents when we play Sarnia the week after since it’s close.” He stroked Ava’s hair.
“That’s fine.” Tori forced a smile to her lips despite the tightening of her chest.
Tori awoke early the next morning, and rather than risk waking anyone else, left the guest house and went for a walk around the grounds, finally stopping to sit on the bench by the river.
Half an hour later, Jon glanced out the kitchen window and saw her. “Morning sis, you’re up early.” He handed her a cup of coffee as he joined her.
“Thanks. Yeah, I couldn’t sleep.”
“I know the feeling. Everything okay?”
“Yeah, it’s fine.” She assured him. “Just the change of time zones I think.”
“Oh, honey! It just so wonderful!” Joan gushed, hugging all three of them. “I’m so happy for you!” She pulled Tori into the kitchen and urged her into a chair while she made coffee. “I knew it! I knew you would be the one to make my Richie happy again. And you will be a good mother to Ava...and any others that may come along.”
“From your lips to God’s ear Ma.” Richie murmured, bending to press a kiss to Tori’s temple as he sat beside her. Tori smiled.
They spent the rest of the afternoon with Joan and stayed for dinner.
“If you need any help with the wedding plans, or anything at all, you just let me know.” Joan reminded Tori as they were leaving.
“I will.” Tori promised as she hugged Joan back.
Back at the estate, Tori walked up to the main house to see the kids before they went to bed.
“How thrilled was Joan?” Dorothea asked when Jake and Romeo were settled and the two of them were seated on the couch in the den with a cup of coffee.
Tori grinned. “Just a little. I think that if she had her way, she’d have called the priest and had the deed done right then and there.”
Dorothea looked around. “Where’s Richie and Ava?”
“On the phone with L.A.”
“Again?” Richie called three or four times a day.
“Yeah, Ava’s talking to her mother.”
“And you don’t want to be there?” She knew she would want to be around if her fiancée was talking to his ex, particularly under the circumstances.
Tori shook her head. “It’s not my place.”
“Really.” Her disagreement was evident in her tone. “Does he at least tell you about their conversations?”
“Oh yes. I can’t complain about that. He tells me everything they talk about. He’s not keeping secrets.”
“I’m glad.” Dorothea didn’t like what she was seeing, but if Tori was okay with it, she’d stay out of it. “I wish you weren’t leaving tomorrow. I was hoping you’d be here for the holiday.”
“Yeah, I’d kind of figured on that too, but Richie wants to get Ava back so that she can see Heather.” She glanced at her watch. “Speaking of that, I’d better go and make sure she’s got everything packed and ready to go.”
“I thought you were coming here when you got back from Europe.” Karin stated.
“Yeah, that was the plan, but Richie wanted to get Ava back here so that she could see her mother.” Tori took the cordless phone with her back outside to where she’d been sitting by the pool. “We’re going to stop by there on our way to Sarnia next week.”
“Did you go see his mother before you headed to L.A.?”
“Yes, we spent the afternoon before we left Jersey with her.”
“And you spent time with the Bongiovi’s?”
“Yes, John, Carol, Matt and Desiree joined us for dinner the day after we got back from Europe.”
“So it’s just your family – or rather, part of it - that doesn’t rate a visit until the timing suits him then? Nevermind that you’re the only girl, and you just got engaged. Why would your parents be anxious to see you?” Her sarcasm was biting.
“Come on Karin, that’s not fair.” Even if the same thought had crossed my mind. “Ava has to come first. Besides, it’s not like we’re getting married right away. There’ll be plenty of time to talk about things.”
Karin snorted. “Yeah, sure. I know you better than that. You’ve probably got it half planned already.”
“No, actually, I haven’t even thought about it.”
“Seriously? What’s wrong?” At the other end of the phone, Karin was frowning. This wasn’t like Tori at all. She knew how excited Tori was about marrying Richie, so something had happened in the last week to curb her enthusiasm.
“Nothing. I’ve just been busy with the tour and everything, and Richie’s been preoccupied with Heather and that whole situation.”
“Where is he now?”
“He took Ava to see her mother.”
“How often does he do that?”
“Everyday. She is her mother after all.”
“Mmhmmm, and how often does he call her?”
“Once a day. Relax Karin, he’s not cheating on me with his ex-wife.”
“Are you sure?”
“Karin! She’s in a hospital for crying out loud! And Ava’s always with him.”
“As far as you know.”
Tori sighed. “I thought you liked him.”
“I do. But you’re my best friend and I don’t want to see you hurt again.” Karin paused. “Does he talk to you about all of this? Do you know what he’s thinking?”
“Yes he talks to me. Every night after Ava goes to bed we talk about it.”
“Then what’s bothering you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on Tori, if everything was hunky-dory, you’d be gushing about dates and dresses and flowers. Are you having second thoughts about getting married?”
“No. I’m not.”
“Do you think Richie is?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think he knows.” She hesitated trying to figure out how to explain. “You know the saying ‘be careful what you wish for’? Well, I know exactly what they meant. I know that to help him he needs to talk about things that bother him, and I’m thrilled that he talks to me….even if I’m not too thrilled with what I’m hearing. I try to set aside my own emotions to help him deal with his.”
“But…all this with Heather has got him thinking. He’s wondering if her depression was there when they were still married and he just didn’t see it.”
“And if that played a part in the divorce?”
“And you’re wondering if it did, if they can control the depression would she maybe want him back.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yeah. I know he loves me, but…..he loved her first, and they have a child together. I can’t stand in the way of her family being put back together – if that’s what they want.”
Karin could hear the emotion in her voice. “So what are you going to do?”
Tori blew out a breath. “I’m going to wait until the tour is over and Heather is home. Then I’m going to encourage him to have a long talk with her and see if they can find some answers.”
“Have you mentioned any of this to Richie?”
“No. I don’t want him to stop talking to me about his feelings. He’s got enough to think about right now. When the tour’s over and we see how Heather is coming along, then I’ll sit him down and talk it out.”
“Do you think he’s going to wait that long?”
“Probably. He’s so fixated on Heather he’s not paying a whole lot of attention to the little nuances of my moods.”